Anxiety During Pregnancy: How to Keep Calm
If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely experienced an increase in stress. With even more on your to-do list than before, you may feel like it’s taking a toll.
This post provides tips on how to minimize worry and stress while you’re expecting. However, if you are experiencing chronic stress and may have an anxiety disorder, skip to the “therapy and medication” section and contact your doctor.
Realizing It’s Normal
If you are experiencing an increase in anxiety now that you’re pregnant, you should know that you’re not alone. According to a poll by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 52% of pregnant women report increased anxiety or depression. Only 16% of pregnant women reported no change at all.
A little anxiety during pregnancy is normal. You’re going through a journey that will change your life. There is no way to be 100% prepared for pregnancy, birth and parenting. They are entirely new experiences. Even if you’ve had a baby before, each baby is different and there’s no way of predicting the future. Instead of getting even more down on yourself for feeling anxious, realize that it’s okay and most expecting mothers feel this way! Being worried about your baby simply means that you care.
Even though feeling worried is normal, there are a few things you should try to keep your anxiety levels to a minimum.
Implementing a couple of lifestyle changes may be enough to banish your worries. Here are a few suggestions:
- Exercise: One study showed that people who exercised regularly were 25% less likely to develop depression or anxiety. But don’t worry — we’re not asking you to lift weights and train for a marathon! Some psychologists suggest that a simple 10-minute walk may be just as effective as a 45-minute workout. Moving your body could provide hours of relief.
- Eating Healthy: What you eat affects how your body functions, including your brain. In a 2011 study, people who had better diets were less likely to be depressed. On the other hand, those who ate more processed and unhealthy foods were more likely to experience increased anxiety. Getting your daily intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains could improve your mood and lessen your anxiety.
- Get Sleep: If you are a worrier, less sleep may equate to more worrying, according to one study. It concluded that people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks may significantly benefit from sleep therapy. During pregnancy, it may be difficult to get comfortable with your growing belly. Using a pregnancy pillow, winding down an hour before bed and meditating beforehand may help you get a restful night’s sleep.
- Accepting Help: When you’re expecting, you start to get very busy: From doctor’s appointments and baby shopping to educating yourself about parenting. You’re likely still working and feeling pregnancy fatigue, making it even more stressful. During this time, don’t be afraid to accept and ask for help. If your family and friends ask if they can take anything off your plate, tell them. Graciously accept if your mother offers to help you clean or bring you home cooked meals. If your friend offers to watch your current children to give you a day to relax, take them up on the offer. If you need more help around the house, communicate to your partner that pregnancy is taking a toll on you and you’d be thankful if he could help out with a few more chores. When you get rid of the shame of asking for help, you’ll feel a weight lifted off of you.
- Eliminating Triggers: What’s making you stressed the most? Targeting specific areas that are causing you anxiety could be key in uplifting your mood. For example, if you’re used to having a jam-packed schedule and it’s making you stressed, it may be time to cut back. If you keep getting work emails while you’re trying to relax at home, turn off the notifications and refuse to reply until morning. If you’re a social butterfly but have been drained by recent interactions, cut back your outings. Being pregnant can be stressful enough, so reducing stress in other areas of your life may help.
- Talking to Loved Ones: Talking about your stresses and worries instead of bottling them up can help significantly. If you don’t want to see a therapist, you can speak with your partner, friends and family. Remember that your partner is in a similar situation; he’s becoming a father and it’s likely he is also worried about the baby’s health, how to take care of a baby and how to be a good parent. If you talk to him, it’s likely he can relate to many of your stresses. Talking to your own mother or family members who have been pregnant can also help to calm your nerves and provide some reassurance. Ask them if they were anxious during pregnancy, what they stressed about and how they overcame their worries. If you’re the only one in your friend circle who is pregnant, it might feel like an isolating experience. For this reason, it can be helpful to connect with other pregnant women. You can join parenting or birthing classes to create these connections. Another option is to participate in online pregnancy forums. There are many sub-forums dedicated to pregnancy questions and stresses, all of which will help you feel a little less alone in your journey.
There are also some natural remedies you can try that may provide relief from anxiety.
- Meditation: The practice of meditation has been proven in study after study to reduce stress. Luckily, you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to reap the benefits. Even 5 to 20 minutes of silent time a day can help. If you find that your mind is too over-active, you can try walking meditation or guided visualization meditations on YouTube.
- Massage: One of the best ways to relax during pregnancy is by getting a massage. You can book a prenatal massage or, if you’re tight on money, have your partner give you one.
- Aromatherapy: Lavender essential oil is commonly used to promote relaxation and sleep. You can use the oil in a massage, diffuse it, or place a few drops on your pillow at night. You should note that fragrance oil is different from essential oil and does not impart the same therapeutic benefits.
- Acupuncture: Studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for stress and anxiety. If you book an appointment with your local acupuncturist, be sure to mention that you’re pregnant. Another option is to see a reflexologist, who also works with pressure points.
Therapy & Medication
As we’ve mentioned, having stress and worry during pregnancy is normal. However, if you are suffering from severe stress or anxiety disorder, you should seek treatment from your doctor. Trying to deal with mental health issues yourself isn’t a good option because it may affect your baby’s health.
Severe stress may make your developing fetus more susceptible to childhood and adult obesity and dysregulated glycemic control, according to a 2013 study. Elevated stress levels can also affect the immune system and activate an inflammatory response. Inflammation has been linked to problems with the development in babies and with a decrease in pregnancy health. Other studies have concluded that high chronic stressors may be associated with earlier births and lower birth weights.
According to a study in the Netherlands, 7 to 8% of depressed or anxious women had babies preterm. The normal rate is around 6%; however, since preterm birth causes life-long effects, the small difference is significant.
If you feel overly stressed, it’s worth seeing your doctor about. He or she may recommend a therapist who can provide a listening ear and teach you how to better deal with your stressors.
If you are diagnosed with anxiety disorder, your doctor may recommend medication. But is anxiety medication safe during pregnancy?
Prozac and Paxil— antidepressants that can be prescribed for anxiety — make some birth defects two or three times more likely, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Prozac appeared to be linked to Craniosynostosis (a birth defect of a baby’s skull) and heart defects. Paxil appeared to be associated to anencephaly (a birth defect of a baby’s brain and skull) gastroschisis and Omphalocele (birth defects of the belly wall) and heart defects.
However, since the risk of these defects is so low, even after doubling or tripling the risk, the likelihood of these defects are still very low.
Other studies have shown that antidepressant use is associated with preterm delivery. With that being said, a 2009 report concluded that more research needs to be done to understand whether preterm delivery is actually caused by antidepressants or instead by the factors associated with mental disorders such as socioeconomic stress, mood and maternal obesity.
The most commonly used antidepressant, Zoloft, did not appear to be linked to any birth defects in the study.
Interestingly, the rate of antidepressant use during pregnancy has more than doubled between 1999 and 2003. As many as 1 in 8 women will use an anti-depressant during pregnancy.
If you decide to use anti-depressants to treat your anxiety, talk to your doctor about which options are the safest to use during your pregnancy.
Are you experiencing anxiety during pregnancy? Comment below your tips for de-stressing. If you found this post helpful, share it with other pregnant friends!
P.S. One of the biggest worries is knowing if your baby is okay. With our fetal dopplers, you can hear your baby’s heartbeat at home, providing the reassurance you need.